While the hockey arena on Beck Road in Plymouth gets a fresh coat of paint on its interior walls, among many other planned renovations, Dylan St. Cyr can sleep tight knowing the paint used to decorate his bedroom and hallway in Northville didn’t go to waste.
St. Cyr, a 17-year-old goaltender, is among the 22 newest members of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, which is in the process of moving from Ann Arbor to Plymouth. The hockey rink previously known as Compuware Arena has been renamed USA Hockey Arena and is the new home for the NTDP Under-17 and Under-18 teams.
A few years ago, St. Cyr’s bedroom and hallway were painted in different colors in hopes of motivating him to accomplish short-term and long-term hockey goals.
He was playing for the Detroit HoneyBaked program, so part of his bedroom was painted in the team colors, gold and black. Another side of the room was painted red, white and blue, symbolizing his hope of playing for the NTDP. The hallway was painted maize and blue, signifying his goal to play for U-M eventually.
“Every day, it was a reminder of what my goals were, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to accomplish,” St. Cyr said, “and obviously going to bed at night, you’d see the NTDP room or the Michigan hallway, so you’d say, ‘Did I do everything I could to get to this point? What can I do better? What can I improve on to achieve these goals that I really want to accomplish?’ ”
He went on to excel at HoneyBaked, earned one of the two goaltender spots on the NTDP’s Under-17 team for the 2015-16 season and recently made a verbal commitment to play for the Wolverines.
St. Cyr and his mother, former Canadian goaltender Manon Rhéaume — the first and only woman to play in an NHL exhibition game — attended orientation at USA Hockey Arena on Wednesday.
“Wouldn’t want to play anywhere else but the NTDP for these next two years,” St. Cyr said.
Rhéaume is happy the NTDP moved from Ann Arbor to Plymouth and that her son is a part of it.
“It’s a big commitment,” she said. “You commit two years of your life to this program, and they’re going to make this rink an amazing place for those kids.”
Just like the 44 players chosen to be part of the U-17 and U-18 teams, USA Hockey Arena needs more work before it is considered a finished product.
USA Hockey bought the arena from Peter Karmanos Jr. after he sold the Plymouth Whalers, which played in the Ontario Hockey League for 25 seasons. The Whalers were sold and relocated to Flint, where they will continue to play in the OHL as the Firebirds.
The locker room/weight room previously used by the Whalers has been gutted and some walls knocked down. That space will be used to make locker rooms for the U-17 and U-18 teams.
USA Hockey is putting $3.5 million into building an addition onto the arena that will include a 10,000-square-foot weight room, running track and skating treadmill, and another 10,000 square feet upstairs that will include study rooms and office space for the NTDP staff.
For now, the NTDP players are lifting weights and doing other activities in a giant tent behind the arena.
Though USA Hockey decided it was time to leave the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, the players aren’t abandoning Ann Arbor. Most still will attend Ann Arbor Pioneer High and will utilize the existing billet families there who have housed players in the past.
Meanwhile, the NTDP staff is busy trying to convince members of the Plymouth community — some of whom are upset by the loss of the Whalers — to come watch two new teams play.
“We play in a league with high-end talent, and you can always watch those players go on and continue in the NHL,” said forward Griffin Luce, a U-M commitment who will play on the Under-18 team this season.
Luce’s father, Scott, is director of scouting for the NHL’s Florida Panthers, and his grandfather, Don, played for the Red Wings with U-M coach Red Berenson in 1970-71.
USA Hockey began calling all of the previous season-ticket holders for the Whalers in hopes of convincing them to give the NTDP a try this season.
“You have to respect they have a lot of passion for (the Whalers),” said Denise Ronayne, the director of sales and marketing for USA Hockey Arena. “That’s what sports is all about.”
NTDP officials are hoping to have bigger crowds for games in Plymouth than they had in Ann Arbor, in part because they know there is a fan base used to attending quality hockey games. The expectations for the first season are to have about 2,000 fans per game.
The arena seats 3,500, and tickets are priced lower than the Whalers’ were last season — $10 and $12 compared to $12 and $16.
There’s a family pack — four tickets, plus food and soft drinks — for $48, and season tickets start at $270 for 36 games, plus an international exhibition against the Czech Republic.
“Hopefully, some of the Whaler fans who are looking for more hockey transition to our team,” said Logan Cockerill of Brighton, who will play on the Under-17 team.
Cockerill, committed to Boston University, said it was fun to finally meet his new teammates this past week.”I played against most of the kids,” he said. “I never really knew their personalities, though.”
Cockerill, like St. Cyr, grew up hoping to play for the NTDP, which counts Phil Kessel, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Suter, Patrick Kane, Cam Fowler and James van Riemsdyk among its alumni.
“All kids know the National Team Development Program is the place to be,” Cockerill said.
And staying in Michigan was important to USA Hockey, which had made the Ann Arbor Ice Cube its home since 1996.
Over the years, USA Hockey received inquiries about moving the NTDP to different states, but it never seriously considered leaving.
“Michigan is a great area, both Plymouth and Ann Arbor are great places for families,” said Scott Monaghan, the NTDP’s senior director of operations. “And that was part of the reason we came here to begin with.
“Another huge reason is Michigan is a very central location in the hockey world, even though it has grown to where there is hockey in Arizona and California. … For us, for traveling, for playing college games, for playing in the USHL to getting to Europe, there’s no better place than doing it from Michigan.”
After the renovations are complete, USA Hockey plans to host several international competitions, including the Under-18 men’s and women’s world championships, the men’s sled-hockey world championship and the women’s world championship.
Hosting the world junior championships won’t be possibile because that event is played in NHL-size arenas, but if Detroit won a bid to host that event, USA Hockey Arena could be part of the package as a secondary facility or practice rink.
Contact George Sipple: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @georgesipple.